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March 27, 2006

Rookie of the year

Posted by Phil on March 27, 2006 7:23 AM

I suppose this just makes me one more liberal who's forgotten how to behave at funerals, but if you want a look at what Ben Domenech's defenders see in the mirror, read the comment section that follows "Contrition," his final word last week. It's all there--Bible verses, martial rhetoric, manly claps on the back, pity, self-pity, pity parties.... It's like a prayer breakfast with Charlton Heston, Curtis LeMay, and Sam the Eagle--each of them certain that this brave, decent boy, having manfully shouldered the burden of his guilt, will once again sit tall in the saddle and ride to the sound of the guns.

I don't read RedState, and I probably won't start. Perhaps as "Augustine," Ben Domenech is strapping the might of his intellect to the brilliance of his language and developing a unique and powerful voice that will dominate American letters for generations to come. But he hasn't done it yet. He and his allies claim he's being pilloried for youthful indiscretions, but that's the thing: He's a 24-year-old whose track record is mostly youthful indiscretions. Why is he writing for the Washington Post? Why is he editing bestselling authors at Regnery Publishing? He's not a victim, he's an arrogant boy who's been making it the lazy way--taking his loose ethics and his father's name up the conservatives' well-greased escalator.

Plagiarism is stealing and lying. It is to newspapers what gambling is to baseball. Ben Domenech may have done most of his when he was a "teenager," but that just wasn't that long ago, and even though his last apology was refreshingly earnest and free of caveat, he was clearly still doing a lot of lying last week. I'm not surprised RedState's pious conservatives don't mention that, but I am surprised so few of them seem bothered by it. Instead they bemoan his martyrdom at the hands of a left-wing lynch mob, when it ought to go without saying that, as a few of them commendably point out, if he'd had nothing to hide, they'd've had nothing to find.

I know only the broad outlines, but it looks like Ben's a classic product of the conservative establishment whose way has been paved since his birth. He may mouth stern and noble principles, but right now he just looks like a privileged cheat with a smart mouth whose dad works for the president. It'd be low to cast aspersions on the fact that he was homeschooled (on the other hand, I'd hate to let anyone down), but perhaps that cloistered world's implicit condemnation of the rest of us is what gave him the idea that cheating is the way we go about things. And, OK, I used to copy P.J. O'Rourke copying Hunter Thompson myself--their style, not their words, but it was still pretty lame. I've been lazy and arrogant, too--and, as a result, when I was 24, I was a file clerk.

In my case, the system was working, but let's not pretend, as conservatives compulsively preach, that the market sorts out the geniuses and the jackasses in a manner that is consistently infallible and just. Up to now, Ben Domenech has demonstrated that cheating can't hurt as long as you have connections, which makes it hard to stomach the buck-up speeches from the RedState faithful. "I am sure that you have a great future ahead"..."You can and will recover and be stronger for it"..."I know you will put this behind you and move on." It's sort of cute the way these bootstrap counter-elitists act like they don't know his resume's larded in advance with think-tank fellowships and shouting-head appearances, and all he's got to do is show up sober. Of course he'll land on his feet! From Oliver North to John Poindexter to Donald Rumsfeld, conservatives who screw up don't get shit-canned, they get the Medal of Freedom! (Unless they're gay. Anyone seen Jeff Guckert/Gannon lately?) Ben Domenech will be on Fox News within 18 months--maybe tag-teaming topics with James Frey. They can call it "Our Truth."

I didn't have a vehement knee-jerk reaction when the Washington Post hired a conservative blogger. A lot of lefty bloggers tried to finesse this, but Dan Froomkin's a stone liberal and that's why I like reading his column. I don't know why the Post owes it to anyone to balance against him, but I also don't know why anyone has a right to say they shouldn't. But let the knuckle-biters of the right spare us their rent garments and cries of left-wing skullduggery. Domenech was a hack who didn't belong in professional journalism, and they know it.

It's not so much that what Domenech has done is so bad, but that he hasn't done enough that's any good. It's no surprise he's got a "job" at Regnery, but I do wonder who had whose ear at the Post. His friends may think he's a heckuva nice guy, and he's certainly got plenty of time to build a career on his own merits. For now, though, he's one more example of the values the conservative system instills, and how far cronyism will take one of their own, however modest his resume, however sloppy his work.

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